Does a popular ride at the magical world of Disney call for a film adaptation? Does the success of one ride turned movie franchise guarantee another? Open ended questions aside, Jungle Cruise is but the next Disney live action film to be adapted from their lore of IP. Almost completely derivative of The Curse of the Black Pearl plot structurally and story, beat for beat, Jungle Cruise replaces the charismatic duo of Johnny Depp (not likely due to his legal issues) and Kiera Knightly with the equally charismatic Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt. Replace the undead pirates that wish to end the terrible curse thrust upon them with undead conquistadors who wish the same. The one difference: a slew of dad jokes that have no right being as funny as they are but absolutely steal the show.
With the right skipper or captain (whatever they’re called) the ride can be engaging, entertaining, cheesy, and fun. It’s a boat ride moving at 5 mph but the one “driving the boat” can make or break the experience. That same snarky, pun heavy dialogue that dads everywhere love and speak fluently like a second language is featured heavily in the opening monologue steeped in exposition and spread throughout the films 127-minute runtime by Frank (Dwayne Johnson). Frank is the Amazon’s man behind the curtain puppeteer – showing us exactly what the backside of water looks like with a series of pulleys and inclined planes. But if need be, and the need calls for it, Frank can take a punch and dish out even worse punishment all with that million dollar smile on his face.
Jungle Cruise moves exactly the way the ride at Disney World and Disneyland does, floating down the river at a methodical speed to capture all the beauty and horrors that await unsuspecting patrons the Amazon has to offer, with a hair of a quicker pace as if the ride was enlarged and filled with the staged dangers that come with every twist and turn the jungle offers. That’s the point of the film – to capture the rides spirit and bring it to life, making it believable in reality as the world has been set up. It’s the lighthearted tone that keeps the film interesting enough to pay attention to but when any sort of serious moment is set up to happen, a joke about Lily’s (Emily Blunt) pants are made and the moment is lost.
how to beat a joke into the ground is fully on display, by the fourth time Lily is called pants, the eyes roll instead of the natural and easy tiny fit of laughter.
The plot of Jungle Cruise mirrors that of Raiders of the Lost Ark as well as the first Pirates film. In search of the mythical tree Tears of the Moon (how quickly will Disney revamp the ride to fit that in) whose pedals can cure any illness, lift any curse, and heal all injuries, Dr Lily Houghton, and her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) take to the Amazon where they meet Frank. Set during the Great War, the main villain Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) seeks the pedals for the German war effort but for majority of the film, his character is useless – only showing up at the right time to unleash the cursed conquistadors on Frank, Lily, and MacGregor. Other than that, like the Germans in Raider’s the character just exists to reap the benefits of taking advantage of those less fortunate.
For what it is Jungle Cruise is an enjoyable ride just like its source material it’s based from. There is no need for danger if all limbs are always kept inside the boat since most of the film is bathed in CGI. At times its detailed enough with the furry jungle Cat Proxima to look the other way and then it’s too much where the use of practical effects might have served a better purpose. Either way, director Jaume Collet-Serra captures that grandioso energy that was promised in the trailers.
Behind Collet-Serra’s direction is a team of writers that bring the film to life. And by team, I mean 5 writers. I refer to a previous review for a film released a couple short weeks ago that had 6 writers working on a script. What I said there, is true here, Jungle Cruise is the product of too many cooks in the kitchen. A film of this caliber shouldn’t need that many people working on the story and screenplay. A lot of it is derivative with a fresh coat of paint so it’s not a carbon copy – just as how it is in grade school when one kid wants to use another’s test for the answers, don’t make it look too obvious. In another world Jungle Cruise easily could have been the next swashbuckling adventure in the Pirates Universe – it’s close enough in distance to the Caribbean.
Cast wise, the chemistry between Johnson and Blunt is infectious. Both have spectacular timing with their dialogue with Blunt bringing more life into her character. Frank is too stiff in moments when he should be more carefree and playful. To be fair, he is given softer edges to his character than Johnson is known for playing – the playing of the guitar, shooting the silent video of his adventure mate – Those moments add nuance to his character. His dad jokes sense of humor gets lost in the shuffle when the film decides a serious moment is necessary to move the plot forward. Surprisingly Johnson and Whitehall have a similar energy when on screen together – even sharing the best dramatic moment of the film. Supporting the three charming leads is a strong cast starting with Plemons who since playing one of the most hated characters in television (in my opinion) has become a chameleon, popping up in almost everything. Paul Giamatti and Edgar Ramirez are there to round out the talent in underutilized roles.
Led by its charming charismatic co-leads, Jungle Cruise lands firmly in the middle – not as memorable as The Curse of the Black Pearl but not as forgettable as Haunted Mansion. It’s fun for the entire family to enjoy while not quite living up to its potential. Ambitious, certainly but too many plot lines keep the script from feeling tightly wrapped together, some storylines just aren’t given enough attention or development they desperately needed.
Jungle Cruise is written by Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, John Norville, & Josh Goldstein, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra is Rated PG-13 and has a 64% on Rotten Tomatoes. Jungle Cruise was released on July 30, 2021 in the United States and has a runtime of 2 hours and 7 minutes. Jungle Cruise can be seen currently in theaters. 2.5 out of 5.